When you think of the top export markets for U.S. pork, you might think of Japan, the perennial leader, or China, the biggest pork consumer in the world.  Or, perhaps, you may think of our North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners, Mexico and Canada.  But two countries in South America, Colombia and Chile, are rapidly emerging as key markets for U.S. pork.

Columbia, the beneficiary of a free trade agreement with the United States that took effect last year, has seen a meteoric rise in purchases of U.S. pork over the past few years.  Since 2007, Colombia’s purchases have increased by 281% in volume (5,183 metric tons in 2007 to 19,755 metric tons in 2012) and a remarkable 533% in value ($8.5 million to $54.1 million).  In 2012, Colombia cracked the top 10 list of U.S. pork export destinations with no slowdown in sight.

Traditional destinations for U.S. pork in Colombia have been further processors and distributors. But with U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) recent initiatives, we have seen initial expansion into the booming retail sector. Retail supermarket chains, such as Carrefour and Grupo Exito, are interested in providing their customers with high-quality products from a variety of sources, differentiating themselves from their competitors.  There has been a growing appreciation for high-quality U.S. pork in this market, which now has a consistent presence in the Carrefour and Grupo Exito retail cases.

USMEF’s South American representative, Jessica Julca, is working very closely with the trade (importers, distributors, retailers, further processors) in Colombia to educate them about the versatility, safety and overall quality of U.S. pork.  In addition, she is working to introduce the Colombian trade to U.S. exporters and build long-term relationships that support export growth. 

Several thousand miles further south on the Pacific coast is Chile, another hot market for U.S. pork.  While Chile is better known as a pork exporter, it has rapidly grown to rank 13th in volume and 12th in value for U.S. pork.

Just a few years ago, U.S. pork exports to Chile were negligible. But in the last three years, the volume of those exports has jumped 307% (4,146 metric tons to 16,866 metric tons) while the value has increased 252% ($12.1 million in 2010 to $42.6 million last year).

The Chilean pork market has been affected by the closing last summer of the Agrosuper Huasco pork production plant due to air quality and pollution concerns.  At the time, the hog volume at the plant accounted for nearly one-fourth of Agrosuper’s total inventory.  This impacts U.S. pork because Agrosuper seems to be focusing on exports, and that has created opportunities for imported products in Chile.

Chile is a good market for frozen pork because it allows processors to have greater control of stocks and price fluctuations. U.S. pork has also gained a retail presence through Wal-mart and some Chilean importers are supplying U.S. pork to foodservice clients.  Like Colombia, Chile is primarily a muscle cut market, which accounts for 78% of U.S. pork exports to Chile. Muscle cuts account for 90% of U.S. pork exports to Colombia.

Currently, Chile is the largest pork importer in South America and an important supplier in the region, making it a key target for USMEF initiatives.  According to the Global Trade Atlas, the United States dominates Chile’s imported pork market with about 65% market share, followed by Brazil and Canada.

While Colombia and Chile are excellent growth markets for U.S. pork, they are not the only targets.  Ecuador is emerging as a country with excellent potential.  Just five years ago, Ecuador was not even a $1 million market, but it has grown into a top 30 destination for U.S. pork, purchasing 2,132 metric tons last year valued at nearly $5.2 million.  While it may never be as large as Colombia or Chile, Ecuador is an increasingly important destination in a region that has a substantial appetite for high-quality U.S. pork.